Fables of the Reconstruction

Residents of the black Grove are being displaced by the value of the land they've lived on for a century


Even promising young people of the black Grove who haven't given up on The System are cynical about the area's new dawn. Mendez, a nineteen-year-old hanging out in the domino park, is studying graphic design at the Lindsay Hopkins Technical Education Center. His family's roots in Miami date back to the Forties. He lives in the Grove, his mother in Overtown.

"No, we don't own no property. We don't like the [road] construction. We wish that the Grove would stay the same as it was before. That's it. Business was doing just fine. The community is a very strong community, very friendly, very open-minded, nice people. Some people are afraid of us because you know they say the ghetto is this and the ghetto is that, but it's not. If you come to the ghetto every day, you see nice people. We don't like killing people. That's not our thing," Mendez offers.

Veer
As the black Grove undergoes a face-lift and rents 
soar to more than 
$400 a month, long-time residents like Alice Johnson 
must find another 
place to stay
Jonathan Postal
As the black Grove undergoes a face-lift and rents soar to more than $400 a month, long-time residents like Alice Johnson must find another place to stay

Andy Parrish knows the lay of the land along Grand as well as anyone. Over the past ten years, Parrish, founder and president of Wind & Rain Homebuilders, has executed a good number of plans, beginning with fifteen houses in the black Grove designed and priced so that even a couple who each earned minimum wage could afford to own one. While seated in the modest one-story office building he and his partners built on a lot he purchased six years ago for four dollars per square foot, he tells how his affordable homes business went from slightly profitable to economically impossible. The key factors: a sharp increase in the price of land and the continued nonexistence of home loan programs for the working poor.

The first affordable home Parrish built -- three bedrooms, two baths -- was completed in 1995 and placed on the market for $77,900. "We couldn't find a buyer [at first]," he recalls, noting today it would easily sell for three times that amount. He managed to construct a total of fifteen such houses and eventually found buyers for all of them. Parrish says he and his partners (one architect and one general contractor) made a total profit of about $5000 to $10,000 per house.

Ever since word got out about Wind & Rain houses, black Grovites have been asking Parrish if he can hook them up with one. But that era is gone. Today Parrish would have to pay at least one hundred dollars per square foot for vacant land in the black Grove. "I can't find a lot for $125,000," he complains. Moreover, the cost of constructing the same size house has swelled from $60,000 to $80,000, he estimates, meaning that to place one on the market today he would have to spend a total of at least $205,000. If he and his partners were each to make a $5000 profit, the sales price would have to be at least $220,000, a figure out of range for anyone in the lower income brackets.

The black Grove's century-old shotgun houses provide another means of measuring the escalation. He bought one along Grand Avenue from David Blumenthal in 2001 for $85,000. Today he would expect to pay $150,000. "If you're lucky," Parrish warns. "You're basically paying for the land."

One of the most telling real-estate indicators in the Grove continues to be St. Hugh Oaks, a City of Miami development project hatched by commissioners and ex-mayor Xavier Suarez in 1986. The idea was to provide handsome townhouses that low-income residents of the black Grove could afford with the help of publicly subsidized construction and mortgages ("Yuppies in the Hood," February 25, 1999). The resulting three-bedroom, two-story structures, designed by the acclaimed architectural firm Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, were handsome indeed. But, owing to thirteen years of delays and cost overruns attributable to questionable project management by city officials, when the houses finally went on the market in 1996, they cost $115,000, well above the cutoff price for subsidized home loan programs. By late 1998 all the units had been bought, and soon some of the canny middle- and upper-class owners had flipped their townhouses to new buyers for more than $200,000. One St. Hugh Oaks unit recently sold for $420,000 (that is, a $305,000 profit from the initial taxpayer-subsidized purchase price of $115,000).

All of which raises the question: How will black Grovites afford to live in the black Grove?


One answer to that question: Many won't. For black Grove apartment renters, especially, the days are numbered. "I'm one who's going to have to relocate soon," says John King, a roofer in his fifties chatting in front of the Coconut Grove Meat Market one recent evening. "My rent went from $285 to $425. In less than a year, I'll be out."

Some have already left. "They're shippin' 'em down south," says King. Standing next to him, Edward Brown, a 62-year-old owner of a lawn service company, clarifies, "Florida City, Homestead. To [housing] projects and apartments."

"A few people moving to Overtown, but a lot of people coming back [from there] because that shit's too hot," adds Brown's 25-year-old nephew, Anthony Johnson, who works at the moribund market. "A couple of my friends moved to Overtown. They couldn't deal with Overtown. They stayed there for like two months and said, like, 'No. That place is too wild. Have to get out of there.' Shootings every night. Too many gunshots. You can't walk around. You can't even sleep at night because of the gunshots. Too dangerous."

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